The First Word: Carry On, Mr. President
Re: “Thank You, Mr. President”
Just because Ms. Harty got her night in the Lincoln Bedroom, we’re all supposed to admire an underachiever, a national embarrassment and a degrader of women.
Is it required to be a Democrat to read Irish America?
(Mrs.) Josephine K. Maloney
Matawan, New Jersey
Thank you for your letter. And no, you don’t have to be a Democrat to read Irish America. You don’t have to be a Democrat to care what happens in Northern Ireland either. Still, I think you were a little over the top in your claim that I spent the night in the Lincoln bedroom just because I thanked President Clinton for what he’s done for that corner of Ireland.
Now, Josephine, don’t think for a moment that I’d mind spending a night in Lincoln’s bedroom. Abraham was a man who stood by his convictions, and I admire that. Not to mention the fact that I have a particular fancy for the White House. The couple of times I’ve been there for the President’s St. Patrick’s Day parties, I felt quite at home.
Did you know, Josephine, that the architect who built the place was James Hoban from County Kilkenny? Maybe that’s why it bears such a remarkable resemblance to Leinster House, the seat of the Irish parliament in Dublin. This fact makes me proud as anything as I stroll the halls lined with all those portraits of past presidents painted by George Healy, an Irish American from Boston. One of George’s paintings depicts a strategy meeting between President Lincoln and Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman, and it reminds me that thousands of Irish died fighting in the Civil War, on both sides. It’s called The Peacemakers.
Now, that’s a fitting title for a canvas hanging in the White House, which for the last eight years has served as a place where Irish and British, unionist and nationalist, republican and loyalist were invited to come together under one roof. As I mentioned in my Editorial that you took issue with, Josephine, it was pretty amazing to be in that place with people from across the divide, with a president and First Lady who cared enough about peace to bring us together.
Of course, Josephine, quite a few American presidents and their wives (Dolley Madison — now, there was one who knew how to throw a party!) had roots in Ireland, north and south, including Ulysses S. Grant who traveled there after he was out of office. But, Josephine, President Clinton was the only reigning American president to visit Northern Ireland. And yes, I sincerely hope that President Bush will be next, and if I get a chance to talk to him I’ll encourage him to visit.
I’m not sure that he’ll be having St. Patrick’s Day parties. I have a sneaking suspicion that he’ll be celebrating St. George’s Day, which is okay, really, some of my best friends are British. But should I happen to be invited to, say, a barbecue on the front lawn, Josephine, I won’t let the side down. I have all the gear, cowboys boots an’ all, from my time in California, and I promise I’ll be careful not to mention the San Patricio Battalion. That would be the Irish who fought on the side of Mexico during the war that started over Texas’s claim that its southern border was the Rio Grande, while the Mexicans insisted it was the Nueces River, 150 miles north. (Grant called it “the most unjust war ever waged by a stronger over a weaker nation.”) But sure, we’ll leave it up to Mexican president Vicente Fox (he of the Irish grandfather) to commemorate the San Patricios. I promise I won’t bring it up.
Should I get the chance, I will remind Mr. President how many Irish American Republicans there are now. (I promise, Josephine, we will explore this dynamic in an upcoming issue.)
And I will keep talking about the North, because things are a bit dicey there at the moment. There’s an increase in paramilitary activity. No one is particularly happy with the new Police Bill. David Trimble is saying that Sinn Féin won’t be allowed to join the cross-border bodies until the IRA decommission (they’ve already allowed two weapons inspections!), and there’s a loyalist feud going on that may have been instigated by the security forces.
You see, Josephine, there are people dying again, and I’m a bit worried that the peace is going to disintegrate.
For such a long time it seemed that American political leadership didn’t care about Northern Ireland. President Reagan claimed to be Irish American but he turned a blind eye on the North and just took Margaret Thatcher’s say-so on the situation.
President Clinton was the first, and he and George Mitchell gave us the blueprint for peace — but we are still building. The project is not finished and the contractors are having trouble with the design, because there are so many different opinions to satisfy and so many interpretations of the plans. American help is needed for a while longer.
Hopefully, President Bush need not be reminded that he told this magazine back in March 2000 that he hoped that Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland would find a way to overcome the remaining obstacles and finally achieve a lasting peace. He said, “The United States should do everything it can to help make this happen.” Thank you, Mr. President. I expect that you will follow through on your words, and carry on where the last president left off, and if you don’t, I trust you will be hearing from Josephine, and every other Irish person out there who voted for you. ♦